Children are born with open minds and no expectations-they take the world as it comes. This also applies to gender roles. Children aren’t born believing that pink is for girls, and blue is for boys, such ideas are taught to them. From an early age, the world around them, including parents, caregivers, and other children, teaches them what their culture thinks it means to be a boy or a girl. This learning process starts with the observation of external sex organs and continues with sorting clothes by color, separating toys into “boys'” and “girls'” categories, and gender-specific praise and expectations.
However, despite common cultural beliefs, gender is not a simple binary concept. Gender is a spectrum, with individuals expressing and identifying with varying degrees of both masculinity and femininity. Transgender people, in particular, identify along this spectrum but also see themselves as a gender that is different from the one assigned to them at birth.
Gender identity and expression are essential to how we see ourselves and our place in the world. This is particularly true for transgender and gender-expansive children and teenagers who need family support more than ever to navigate the mismatch they feel between their internal identities and their external realities.
Studies show that gender-affirming behavior from parents and other adults, such as teachers and grandparents, significantly improves the mental health and well-being of transgender children. Conversely, when immediate caregivers are hostile or rejecting, transgender children are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and homelessness.
It is crucial to resist the temptation to react negatively or reject your child’s identity when they come out. Recognize that their sexual orientation or gender identity is an integral part of their being. Rejecting or denying their truth can cause profound emotional pain and negatively impact their well-being. Instead, focus on creating an environment that is open and accepting, where they feel safe to be their authentic selves.
Using Preferred Names and Pronouns:
When your child comes out, they may entrust you with their preferred name and pronouns that align with their gender identity. It is essential to honor their request and consciously make an effort to use the correct names and pronouns. This simple act validates their identity and demonstrates your respect and support for who they truly are.
Alarmingly, research shows that bullying, victimization, and rejection put transgender youth at a higher risk of suicide compared to their non-transgender peers. In other words, family support can be the difference between life and death for some transgender youth. A safe and affirming home environment can make all the difference for a young person, check out our blog 7 Tips for Creating a More Inclusive and Supportive Home Environment for Your Transgender or Non-Binary Child.
Parents and caregivers can find resources, peer support, and professional guidance to help their child along the journey and ensure they not only survive, but thrive. With the right support, transgender children and teenagers can grow up to be happy, healthy, and successful adults. To find additional parent resources check out PFLAG and Gender Spectrum.